“You Have to Know the End of the Story”: Motivations to Follow Up After Transitions of Clinical Responsibility

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Abstract

Purpose

Physicians routinely transition responsibility for patient care to other physicians. When transitions of responsibility occur before the clinical outcome is known, physicians may lose opportunities to learn from the consequences of their decision making. Sometimes curiosity about patients does not end with the transition and physicians continue to follow them. This study explores physicians’ motivations to follow up after transitioning responsibilities.

Method

Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, the authors conducted 18 semistructured interviews in 2016 with internal medicine hospitalist and resident physicians at a single tertiary care academic medical center. Constant comparative methods guided the qualitative analysis, using motivation theories as sensitizing constructs.

Results

The authors identified themes that characterized participants’ motivations to follow up. Curiosity about patients’ outcomes determined whether or not follow-up occurred. Insufficient curiosity about predictable clinical problems resulted in the choice to forgo follow-up. Sufficient curiosity due to clinical uncertainty, personal attachment to patients, and/or concern for patient vulnerability motivated follow-up to fulfill goals of knowledge building and professionalism. The authors interpret these findings through the lenses of expectancy-value (EVT) and self-determination (SDT) theories of motivation.

Conclusions

Participants’ curiosity about what happened to their patients motivated them to follow up. EVT may explain how participants made choices in time-pressured work settings. SDT may help interpret how follow-up fulfills needs of relatedness. These findings add to a growing body of literature endorsing learning environments that consider task-value trade-offs and support basic psychological needs of autonomy, competency, and relatedness to motivate learning.

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